Gray area between

Exchanging information is the be-all and end-all in my business, and that requires a large number of people you trust. These can be players, coaches and club managers with whom you can exchange ideas about a wide variety of players during and after the season.

This flow of information never only goes in one direction (except, of course, for employers and clients), what I pass on in information primarily about the ICE and the two extra leagues (Slovakia and the Czech Republic) then comes back to information about other countries.

Over the years you talk to a lot of people in Europe and overseas, there are always some added, others are dropped for various reasons.

How do you distinguish between people whose information you can trust one hundred percent and those who are less useful?

Brevity is the soul of wit

In contrast to my LAOLA1 stories, my reports are usually very short and to the point. The following questions must be answered: Can the player help you? What type of player does he represent? Which strengths can be expected, which weaknesses do you have to live with?

If the first question (“Can he help you?”) Is answered in the negative, there is no need to elaborate much: “Too slow”, “too little drive”, “on the downside”, “bad attitude” – more is needed not there at all.

Gray area between “finger away” and “absolutely take it”

Of course, most players are in a gray area between “finger away” and “absolutely take it” – the individual strengths and weaknesses then have to be weighed up. Also important: a player can be very good, but simply not pass. If a team is already slow anyway, a “stationary scorer” (a shooter without much footwork, usually effective in PP) of good or bad could be too much for a strong but goal-poor team.

I know a GM in the AHL whose information I can trust one hundred percent. But he takes the concept of “short-term” to extremes: “Good legs – strong shot – defensive so-so – no off-ice problems, but very calm” could be a typical report from him. You may have to ask, but a piece of information like “I would never use it for my team” (about a current ICE player) says a lot despite the shortness.

I don’t write sprawling reports, nor do I like to read them, as I have to inquire about hundreds of players. But if a degree is close, you can ask again. I quickly eliminate people who like to babble, but cannot offer specific information or opinions, that is a waste of time. On the other hand, people who can filter out the top players in a league and describe them in a few sentences are worth gold …

No numbers please!

I still remember a scouting meeting in Atlanta, where a scout wanted to push a player he loved with statistics. Our GM ironed him out: “No numbers please – I can read myself.”

Numbers and statistics play no role whatsoever in my conversations, I just take a quick look before I make a call. Both interlocutors should know roughly whether the stats are in total contrast to the opinions made, but they actually do not serve as information. If, for example, a DEL manager asks me about Ty Loney, he will surely know that he has been a high scorer in our league for years, he doesn’t want to hear statistics from me. The numbers that are blown out every minute during a TV broadcast, for example, have no relevance in the scouting business.

“In your league”

“He would certainly be very good in your league” – a statement that of course only has value if it comes from someone who also knows the league in question. Overseas managers or coaches never actually do that, in all fairness: this legend hardly occurs these days. In conversations with these people it is more about filtering out their role in their team or league (often AHL), how that transfers to Europe, I have to filter out myself or leave it to the team.

Coaches or managers?

I remember a story about NHL coaches that said, “Some can give you a detailed report on every player in the league. Others act more like fans with a game center subscription.”

Here in Europe, too, there are these different types: I know coaches who really know about almost every player in the league, even years back. Others, on the other hand, stutter when asked, take refuge in meaningless phrases (“Shoot many goals”). Trainers often know the opponents as a unit and in terms of system, but not necessarily in their individual parts, which is by no means reprehensible. I don’t concentrate on systems for this, and like many scouts – if they don’t come from the coach side – I’m not an expert here either.

Sports managers are often a better resource because they have to put together a team every year. Especially in the DEL, there is no club without sporting skills, but a managing director takes care of the financial details. In the ICE, this is often in one hand and one side suffers as a result. The statement of an agent is indicative of this: “I’m offering a DEL team an AHL player – the manager there can immediately rattle off his reports from previous years. In Austria, the managers don’t even know most of the players by name.”

One man per country

Over the years I have built up a field of informants that includes every better league (with the exception of the French league). It is of course more difficult overseas: The regional focus of the AHL and ECHL means you need several people, as coaches and managers do not see many players from other conferences for the entire season.

The best sources are, of course, NHL and AHL scouts or their counterparts in Finland and Sweden: They are constantly on the move, at least for years they have a good overview. In addition, they are of course used to keeping their impressions short and sweet, describing players with their strengths and weaknesses.

By seeing hundreds of games and players every season, of course, you can’t have every report in your head. So I almost always get in touch by e-mail, otherwise the phrase “Let me check on my reports later” often follows on the phone. I often have to say something similar about players (except within the ICE), with more than a thousand reports in a year, I can’t possibly remember everyone right away. When I look into my computer, however, the player soon appears again in my mind’s eye …

The question of character

Of course, it is always very important to also check the character of a player. But of course only if it leaves a good impression on the ice. If he is slow and has stony hands, he is also out of the question if he is helping older women across the street and being nice to animals.

So if a player comes closer, you ask around from former teammates and coaches or managers. My experience: 90 percent of the players are mostly to be seen on the scale as solid characters who do not cause you any problems. The rest is divided roughly half into absolute leader figures with great qualities, the other half are potential problem boys. That doesn’t mean that they don’t have to be signed at all, a good environment can certainly accommodate a somewhat more difficult character if he helps the team on the ice. But at least a warning to a potential new club has to be included here.

The “yes, but” players quickly emerge in every league, there aren’t that many. With the summer newcomer Shawn Lalonde, for example, almost everyone who knows him has said to me for years: “Very good player, but …”. What exactly this “but” looks like is then to be found out, here too the shades are broadly settled. Basically, of course, you see an outstanding player off the ice more than an average player.

The summer with a lot of conversations is over, now the action has shifted back to the halls. The exchange of information, on the other hand, does not come to a standstill, even a loose gossip can provide you with valuable information. The combination between live viewings and face-to-face conversations remains unbeatable for me …

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